Are machines taking over the world? Are robots making all our decisions for us? From politics to the economy, the automation debate is seeping into every walk of life. Ahead of AdWeek Europe, Gavin Johnson, UK commercial director, AOL asks if algorithms can cross the divide from crunching hard data to analysing emotions.
How many times have you read that machines are taking over our jobs, our homes, ultimately our lives? From I, Robot by Issac Asimov, to Humans on Channel 4, AI has been depicted in some of the best-selling books and TV shows of recent times. But this is no longer the stuff of science fiction. More practical examples are, of course, voice-activated assistants such as Siri and Alexa, which are becoming part of our everyday support system, and the rise of emotional analytics is already changing the way brands are communicating with their audiences.
In February, the UK government revealed plans to invest £20m into the research and development of AI to put us in the race as a world leader. Funding of this scale will create a more competitive marketplace in science and tech, and undoubtedly, it will have an astronomical effect on all industries, changing the face of advertising in an unprecedented way.
The marketing revolution
Advertising and AI go hand in hand. The latter acts as a catalyst for brands, providing a sophisticated source of information that can be used to creatively target specific audiences for campaigns. The rapidly evolving age of the Internet means that brands must be attuned to developments, and conferences such as AdWeek Europe serve as a hub for thought leaders, visionaries and industry experts to not only discuss the state of the industry, but also predict what lies ahead for us.
We have witnessed some of the fastest developments in marketing technology – from the conception of ad banners in the early Nineties, to the programmatic era becoming more efficient, more targeted and more enhanced. But what does all of this mean for advertisers and what has AI got to do with it? In short, the more AI is used in marketing campaigns, the more intelligent it becomes – meaning that it can predict information, even emerging lifestyle trends such as gluten-free diets, before they are mainstream. These, in turn, can then be used strategically to serve more relevant ads to consumers based on their behavioural footprints and interests online.
A problem we face as marketers is that we don’t always have the right information for our audiences, or we simply have too much of it. Inefficiency and wastage have been major bugbears for our industry. By tapping into advanced tech like machine-learning and AI, we have an opportunity to reach users at the most useful times, when it really matters.
So, how does it work? Algorithms like AdLearn, ONE by AOL’s machine-learning algorithm, use advanced intel from consumers, ranging from their past behaviours to predicting what their future actions may be (like moving home, finding a new job, buying a new car, or even when they’re likely to be getting engaged or married), to deliver optimal campaign performance. AdLearn has been ‘learning’ for over 17 years, ingesting data and getting smarter with every campaign it runs. We’ve moved beyond factors such as demographics to using social listening tools, device ID, location and cookie data to produce effective delivery based on short-term predictions, or even over an extended period of time.
Creativity + Performance = Greater Storytelling
We know that sophisticated automation, such as AI, can filter the guesswork and make sense of the oceans of data advertisers have at their disposal.
From a creative standpoint, we can use it to leverage bigger brand campaigns, resulting in better emotional storytelling and better optimisation and performance.
It’s been a phenomenal journey for the advertising industry. Although AI is still in its infancy, we can’t ignore the fact that it influences every part of our work – from content creation, to bots and analytics. Marketers have been forced to not only accept the changing media landscape, but to embrace it.
So, to return to my original question: can machines predict when you will fall in love? At heart, I’m an old-school romantic and I’m not suggesting or advocating a world where AI will control our free-will and remove the chance encounters or fleeting moments that make up the key moments in our lives. That’s a step too far. But when applied to advertising, AI is undeniably a compelling force all marketers should be using to their advantage. After all, who wouldn’t want to harness the power of emotional response and future behaviour to create richer creative and even deeper engagement?
Gavin Johnson will be speaking at Ad Week Europe on Tuesday 21st March.